iPhone Tip: How-To Format/Erase/Wipe your personal data from the iPhone

When I had reported the breaking news of the 3G iPhone launch on June 9th, readers had commented and emailed that they plan to sell their older but soon to be obsolete iPhone to buy the latest and greatest version. If you are one of them then the post earlier this week regarding iPhones sold as refurbished unit revealed previous owners personal data could definitely be one of your concerns.

Rich Mogull over at Securosis.com has come to the rescue and has published a method that should wipe out almost all your personal data to prevent it from being recovered later.

Before I get into the details I must warn you that the method is nowhere close to the "Full iPhone format function in iTunes" iPhone Hacks reader Kane2007uk wanted to see Apple implement nor is it foolproof or thoroughly tested.

Here are the steps that you need to follow:

  • Restore the iPhone from within iTunes.
  • On the “Info” tab, un-check all options so you don’t synchronize calendars, email, bookmarks, and contacts.
  • On the Photos, Podcasts, and Video tabs, uncheck “Sync …”.
  • Create 3 big playlists at large as the storage capacity of your iPhone.
  • On the Music tab, select the first of your 3 playlists to sync. Make sure the storage bar at the bottom looks full after syncing.
  • Sync your iPhone, change to the next playlist, sync again, and repeat one last time.

This method should help in hopefully overwriting any of the free space on your phone and thus preventing any of your personal data once stored on your iPhone to be recovered by the new owner.

Or you could simply use this method that iPhone Hacks reader louis had mentioned in the comments:

"Just remember before you sell your phone to use cyberduck to go into the phone trash all the files contact, email folders etc, reboot the phone, restore the phone (but not from backup)."

I liked Kane2007uk’s idea of the "Full iPhone format function in iTunes", lets hope Apple implements it in the near future or a native iPhone application by the enterprising iPhone hacking community.

If you have put this method to the test or have an even better method to do this then do let us know in the comments.


While we are on the subject of personal data of previous owners being available on the iPhone it is also important to note here that the data was recovered using forensics software. It is not easy for an average user who bought a refurbished iPhone to gain access to the previous users data. I also don’t think this is is an issue with the certified refurbished iPhones sold by Apple or AT&T as I am sure they would be using some internal tool/s to format the iPhone. It is a something you should be aware of and take precaution to avoid your personal data being recovered by someone with the proper expertise if you are planning to sell directly on sites like eBay or Craiglist.

[via Securosis.com]


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  • tyrel

    in the iphone enterprise roadmap they announced the iphone can be remotly wiped via exchange server to protect data incase of loss of your phone

  • distortedloop

    Too bad you can't remotely wipe all those duplicate posts you just made! LOL

  • For that one you have me 🙂 unpublished the 5 duplicate comments.

  • Nice to see there is a half-way decent method of clearing the iPhone of personal data before re-selling it on, and thanks for mentioning my idea, let's hope Apple either read this site or have the very same idea up their sleeves, because we do know that with the release of the 2.0 fw there will also be a new version of itunes to compliment it…you never know.

  • distortedloop

    I haven't poked around that deeply in the iPhone's file structure, but I've poked around a bit and I'm pretty sure that the "just sync over a bunch large playlists to the device's capacity" method won't work.

    The iPhone has multiple partitions, some are available to the media files, some aren't. The contacts, call lists, sms history, safari bookmarks, etc, etc, all the private information you're worried about aren't located in an area that the music files would ever be allowed to write to in the first place. You'd almost have to make bogus contact lists and the like and sync them over to ensure things are wiped out.

  • Hackz R Us

    i cant seem to make the CUSTOMIZE SOFTWARE APPPS to work with Firmware 1.1.4.It allows u to install but when you click the icon it open briefly to the chicken graphics at startup and then closes..need help on this.

  • raffi

    hackzrus- you need to install the fix from installer- it's called the suid lib fix

  • omg not a shorter way i gotta format its dam important

  • khalil

    very good

  • asim

    hy i m using apple i phone 2g 1st problem is i can not switch off it when i switch off its restart
    2nd problem is on the screen a massege is blink this accesorry is not working made with this
    iphone would u like to turn on air plane mode to reduce audio interfarrance u cant abele to recive the call plz help me how can i remove this massage how to update version and how to formate